The advent of a new year brings a great excuse to refresh your PC setup, and there's no better place to start than by picking out the best gaming keyboard to suit your needs. Peripherals are a huge part of any PC build, the components of your machine that you'll have your hands on the most, so don't overlook them when you're shopping for a killer rig. Keyboards, specifically, come in two primary flavors - membrane and mechanical. Membrane, rubber dome keyboards are the sort that come packed in with new PCs, inexpensive and generally of pretty consistently low quality. Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, feature high quality switches that deliver a much more tailored, more satisfying experience when gaming and typing, and they tend to be generally better quality in terms of build and performance.
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Corsair K70 Lux for $89.99 ($30 off at Amazon)
Grab our top choice for the best gaming keyboard at a pretty awesome price, currently 25% off at Amazon. With tactile, clicky Cherry MX Blue switches and one of the highest build qualities we've ever seen in a keyboard, this is a true luxury deck.
Finding the right mechanical switch for you comes down largely to preference. If you're looking for something that's really clicky and feeds you a tactile bump in response to every press, you probably want something in the range of Cherry's MX Blues (featured on our top pick, the Corsair K70 LUX) or Razer Greens. If you're looking for a more hybrid-oriented switch, with a slightly lighter actuation force, a Cherry Brown switch is probably more your speed, whereas if you really need to spam keys and want something whisper quiet, try Cherry's Red variation. There are also a growing number of fascinating alternatives emerging in the modern keyboard market, too - Razer now offers a 'opto-mechanical' option in its Huntsman line of boards, which provides a similar tactile bump to standard mechanical switches but uses an optical laser to almost completely eliminate actuation delay. And Logitech, Kailh, and a number of other competitors have started offering their own flavors of switches to loosen Cherry's virtual monopoly.
Of course, once you've gotten hold of a great keyboard, you'll need the best gaming mouse to pair it with, so check out our guide. And peripherals are useless without a lovely rig to use them with, so we've also got a dedicated guide to finding the best gaming PC, prebuilt and ready to play the best PC games out right now.
So what’s the difference between gaming keyboards and why should you care?
A keyboard is a keyboard, right? Well, it all depends on what kind of typing sensation you’re after, what functionality you need and how much money you’ve got to spend. If you picked up DOTA 2 on your MacBook and want a similar sensation for desktop sessions, you probably want a chiclet keyboard, which is characterized by membrane switches (round rubber domes under the keycaps) and low-profile keys. A good chiclet keyboard is quiet and responsive, though perhaps not quite as precise or durable as its big brother, the mechanical keyboard.
Rather than one keyboard-wide membrane, mechanical keyboards use per-key mechanical switches, which consist of a plunger, spring and electrical contacts. The most common and popular switches are Cherry MX branded, manufactured by the eponymous Cherry corporation. Recently, however, Kailh, Razer, Logitech, and others have started producing their own proprietary mechanical switches with varying degrees of success. Regardless, if you want full-height keys, are a stickler for consistency, and/or crave the physicality and aural experience of a typewriter, you want a mechanical keyboard. Membrane decks are generally cheaper, mass-produced, low quality affairs, so even if are you looking for a quiet keyboard with low profile keys a mechanical solution is probably the way to go.
1. Corsair K70 LUX
Our top pick gaming keyboard to complete your arsenal
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Red LED | Programmable keys: All | Features: Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
Corsair’s K70 LUX mechanical keyboard is our top pick for an all-purpose gaming keyboard. It features Cherry MX Blue switches, which are very clicky and tactile, great for both gaming and for typing. The board is backlit by a stylish, slightly ominous red (or, for slightly more dosh, full RGB), which can be set to various intensities and to glow behind every key or just a smaller subset of ‘home’ keys.
Every key is assignable via the Corsair Utility Engine suite making for a keyboard that is definitively your own in both form and function. There are also dedicated media controls and an onboard USB passthrough port, which effectively moves an existing USB port from your PC to your keyboard, rather than providing an additional port.
The only major downsides are the price and the fact that there’s no OSX version of Corsair Utility Engine, but the former is mitigated right now by some deep sale prices ($89.99 at Amazon). The keyboard also requires two separate USB connections if you’re hooking it up through USB 2.0 ports rather than a single USB 3.0 slot, which is a little weird and inconvenient but certainly not a deal breaker.
2. HyperX Alloy Elite
Hits the sweet spot between functionality and luxury perks
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Red LED | Programmable keys: None | Features: Cherry MX Brown, Blue, or Red mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
The HyperX Alloy Elite represents a perfect sweet spot between sturdy functionality and luxury perks. It’s sturdy construction and steel frame will endure the clumsiest drops or most furious tosses, and its spacious design allows for the comfortable spacing of each key. It feels like a luxury item, with a pleasant weight and obvious durability, but adorned with a bar of media controls and additional option keys that give it the feel of a high priced car’s over-stuffed electronic dashboard. But these keys are all essential, obviating the need for additional software.
Unfortunately, the lack of software also means that the keys aren’t individually programmable. On the other hand, the Alloy Elite offers an increasingly rare option to choose from a range of Cherry switches, either the aforementioned tactile, medium-click Browns, the linear, quiet Reds, or the stiffer, clickier Blues. For gaming purposes, Reds or Browns are probably the choice here, because the force required for Blues can be a bit much when you need immediate, lightning-quick response time, but the trio of options is a welcome blessing anyway you cut it.
3. Razer BlackWidow X Chroma
The best Mac gaming keyboard (though it's PC compatible as well)
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Razer Mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8 – 10.11
For the OSX diehard that also takes pride in their Steam collection, Razer’s BlackWidow X Chroma is the best on the block. As one would expect from a keyboard in this range, every key (and its corresponding RGB LED) is user assignable to an impressive degree, thanks to Razer’s Synapse customization software. If you’ve got other compatible Chroma peripherals, Synapse will also coordinate color patterns across all attached products, turning your battlestation into your own little slice of Tron.
Feel-wise, the BlackWidow Chroma uses Razer’s proprietary “Green” class of mechanical switches, which are roughly analogous to Cherry MX Blues. This means that Razer Green switches are both clicky and tactile, which translates to an audible clack and perceptible bump with every press of a key. There is also a Chroma “Stealth” version of the BlackWidow, which employs Razer’s quieter Orange switches, though it can be a bit tougher to find than its clicky sibling.
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4. Corsair Gaming K95 RGB
When you absolutely must have a button for everything
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: 18 dedicated macro keys, Cherry MX Red mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
For the MMO maverick that wants it all and wants it right now, nothing provides faster access to abilities and macros than Corsair’s K95 RGB gaming keyboard. The K95 RGB takes almost everything great about the K70 RGB Rapidfire and slaps 18 dedicated macro keys on the left-hand side, which can be be used to trigger up to 108 macros.
Beyond that, the K95 features all the same bells and whistles as the K70 RGB Rapidfire, save for the passthrough USB port, which has gone missing. For a keyboard that costs this much though, we’d expect to not lose any features present on cheaper models in the same series.
There’s another slight difference, though whether it’s good or bad is a matter of personal preference. The K95 uses Cherry MX Red switches, rather than the Cherry MX Speed units found on the K70 RGB Rapidfire. Reds have a slightly taller actuation point than Speed switches, and have a slightly longer travel distance, though both require the same amount of force to actuate. Does this mean that MX Red switches are slower or more laborious to use than MX Speed switches? In practice, not really. Reds and Speeds are different, but that difference is measured in tenths of a millimeter. Both types are non-tactile, non-clicky switches and either makes for an excellent keyboard.
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Razer Huntsman Elite
The lowest actuation delay in any gaming keyboard
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Dedicated media keys and digital dial, Razer's proprietary opto-mechanical switches, stabilizer bar in each switch
The Razer Huntsman family is the only set of keyboards to feature Razer's excellent opto-mechanical switches, which blend the tactile, clicky feel of a standard mechanical switch with optical actuation, means that actuation delay is almost entirely eliminated. It also reduces the gap between the actuation point and reset point to almost 0mm, which reduces hysteresis to practically nil - striking a key multiple times or frantically spamming it is incredibly easy. These are some of the best switches we've ever tested, and are incorporated into an excellent design.
The Huntsman Elite features a number of nice little quality of life touches, from the leatherette and memory foam wrist rest to the slightly protruding digital dial along the upper right edge of the board, which allows you to adjust brightness, volume, or a number of other settings. Alongside it are a trio of dedicated media keys, and of course, it's backlit by Razer's signature suite of fully customizable RGB lighting.
5. Logitech G910 Orion Spark
The best-looking, highly-functioned keyboard - at a price
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: 9 | Features: Proprietary Romer-G switches, nine macro buttons, customizable RGB
Easily one of the best looking mechanical keyboards on the market, the Orion Spectrum is also feels like one of the most highly and precisely engineered. It starts with Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G switches, available as either linear or tactile, which have one of the shortest throws in this class and feel smooth and responsive in either configuration. Then there’s the intense, sharp backlighting of the keys, available in 16.9 million colors, projected by a centered backlight through a Swiss-crafted lens beneath each key.
The Spectrum also comes with a suite of add-ons that may appeal to some gamers but are largely gimmicky and, at the moment, under-supported, like their Arx Control second screen functionality that lets you view information from specific games while you play. What are quite handy, however, are the generous nine macro buttons, tastefully arrayed around the left and top edges of the board, and robust anti-ghosting protection to ensure you never lose keystrokes.
6. Razer Ornata Chroma
The best keyboard for 'feel' thanks to mech and membrane tech
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Mecha-membrane keys, wrist rest, fully programmable keys
Combo-ing up membrane and mechanical keyboard tech, this Razer offering is a brilliantly tactile experience. The mid height keys might not be to everyone’s taste but every key press is satisfying and it’s a slick offering that’s ideal for everyday office use before descending into gaming at night. The noise might kill everyone else in the room - although it’s been likened here to rain on a window pane - but it’s exceptionally gratifying and individual keypresses are intuitive and clear.
Once again, you can alter the individually programmable backlit keys using Razer’s Synapse app and the Ornata happily works with both PCs and Macs. So whether you want a fire flickering under your fingertips or to set up specific game profiles, it’s all within reach.
Plus, the fake leather wrist rest is exceptionally comfortable to use especially for intense hours of WASD positioning and it’s magnetic so all you’ll need to do is lift it away if you’re not a fan. Intuitive, stylish and satisfying at a great price, this is easily one of our best gaming keyboards.
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7. SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL
Compact and specialized for the eSports professional or hobbyist
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Linear QX2 mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8+
At its core, SteelSeries’ latest offering is an incredibly solid board, sturdy aluminum construction with competitive switches, and the embarrassment of perks pushes it over the top.
The SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL is the slimmed down version of the full bodied M750, with the numpad trimmed off the edge to maximize desk space for mousepads or other office accoutrement. It also fits more comfortably in your lap for lazy browsing or those who pipe their PCs through their TVs and game on the couch. While it’s designed to cater to eSports professionals (and ambitious amateurs), it’s also an all around sturdy, high performing board with a gorgeous design and very satisfying proprietary switches.
The M750 also boasts a package of the most intuitive but most robust pack-in software available. Alongside the standard SteelSeries Engine, it comes with a programmable lighting app called ImageSync that allows for a host of lighting and reactive typing effects, as well as suites of specialized lighting for games like CS: GO and Dota 2. It even has real-time lighting notification options for Discord.
8. 1STPLAYER Steampunk
A genuinely unique keyboard with some great features at a fantastic price
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Proprietary mechanical switches, per key RGB lighting, vintage style keycaps, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8+
1STPLAYER's Steampunk keyboard may not look particularly steampunk at a glance, but you'll forgive any thematic shortcoming the first time you get your fingers on its pleasantly rounded, semi-tacky feeling keycaps. The proprietary switches are clicky and lightly tactile (somewhere between Cherry Blues and Browns) and typing with it is a joy, but not so heavily weighted they impede gaming.
The RBG lighting is more subtle than on similar keyboards, lighting the plastic switch cases in something akin to watercolor shades. As someone who's not interested in a neon blitz every time I sit down to type or game it's a welcome change. The Steampunk is one of the few keyboards I've used for any extended period of time without feeling like I needed to disable the lighting because it was drawing my eyes away from the screen. While the keycaps feel a bit small under larger fingers, they're not so slim you'll be accidentally striking other keys, and at a sub-$40 price point the Steampunk feels like a lot of keyboard for very little cash.
9. Logitech G513
Our top budget pick - low price, high quality
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: F1 - F12 | Features: Romer-G tactile or linear switches, memory foam palmrest, aluminum alloy construction
The G513 is a sleek, minimalist keyboard, sharp and elegant in either silver or carbon. The carbon version packs Logitech's proprietary mechanical switches in three distinct flavors, the Romer-G linear, Romer-G tactile, and GX Blue options (the silver version only offers the Romer-G switches). The Romer-Gs are both designed for silent running, with the tactile option providing a subtle bump, whereas the GX Blues are both tactile and clicky and roughly analogous to Kailh Blue KTs.
All the switch options feel comfortable and responsive and basically indistinguishable from Cherry or other alternatives; the real strength of the G513 is the design, aircraft grade brushed aluminum alloy, and the per-key RGB if you want to deeply customize the backlighting on your board. It's a smart, attractive package, and while the lack of dedicated media keys feel like an oversight, twelve customizable function keys fill the gap admirably.
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